Refining Your Background Check Strategy During Hiring

February 26, 2019

Refining Your Background Check Strategy During Hiring

As we approach 2020, it’s inevitable that HR leaders will want to assess policies, trends, and strategies in order to provide direction, philosophy, and leadership for HR professionals in the coming decades. Over the past several years we have seen social crusades such as the #MeToo movement, diversity & inclusion, and guidelines that protect individuals with a criminal past. This has and will continue to have a huge impact on hiring practices. 

A negative trend that has also emerged is incidents of violence, access to guns, and mental health issues which have made the workplace, at times, a dangerous place. HR leaders should take a balanced approach when implementing policies that HR staff follow when making hiring decisions. Knowing what can be potentially revealed in a background investigation vs. what is not can have a huge impact in the ability of HR to navigate risk. There is the balance between adhering to Equal Employment Opportunity Guidelines (EEOC) and Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements (FCRA) while protecting the company and other employees from negligent hire lawsuits. 

Aligning Goals and Risk
When reviewing your organization’s background investigation policy, it is critical to understand what most background checks will reveal and how to effectively navigate through the process. While many HR leaders feel that most background checks are the same, there are intricacies associated with each level. Before looking at the various levels, the priority is to understand the strategic goals of your organization and aligning them with risk tolerance. What does your organization stand for and what is its brand/reputation value? What about your culture will help attract and retain talent? What is the talent pool in your current industry and how challenging is it to fill open positions and business needs? What would happen if the organization was compromised as a result of a “bad hire,” and what impact would that have on you? 

In addition, because not all background checks are created equal, it is critical to understand the exposure and associated investment that an organization is willing to make to mitigate risk. A background “check” can be something as a quick instant online search that can be done for under $20 to an intricate comprehensive dossier costing thousands. It can also depend on the exposure that an organization has to its clients, vendors, and fellow employees and how much risk is tolerable. At the same time, it is equally as important to know what is NOT revealed in a background check and being comfortable with the associated outcomes. One last piece of an effective policy involves the time period that may be searched for convictions. 

Choosing the Right Check
To establish a workforce aligned with a corporate culture based on established core values, the first step is to conduct proper background investigations for pre- and post- hire employees. However, there are many factors to consider. The key for HR leaders is to promote a complete understanding by HR staff of what certain background checks do and don’t uncover, even if hiring a credit reporting agency to conduct the searches. The balance, in this instance, is knowing how to conduct the most thorough investigations so that a bad apple doesn’t slip through the cracks while at the same time not discriminating against a person with a criminal past if the crime will not affect his or her job. 

There are various criminal-only background checks from local up to federal or multi-state checks. This does not include many other types of background checks including but not limited to social media background investigations, credit history, employment, education verifications, and more. Without a complete understanding of what each type of check can reveal, it is possible to be lulled into a false sense of security. A thorough combination of the above searches will yield the most comprehensive results possible when it comes to your potential hires. 

Adhering to FCRA and EEOC guidelines are important factors to consider when conducting criminal background investigations. While it’s important to know that the people you are hiring and the people working in your office are not dangerous, it is equally important to avoid discrimination lawsuits and how to proceed when and if a criminal conviction or adverse finding has been uncovered.

Avoiding Discrimination
When determining how to proceed with the results of a criminal background investigation, be sure to consider the state’s public policy surrounding the hiring of those who have been convicted of crimes. According to the Legal Action Center, a non-profit law and policy organization dedicated to fighting discrimination against people with criminal records, 14 states have legal standards governing public employers’ consideration of an applicant’s criminal record. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, EEOC guidelines don’t prohibit criminal background checks. However, an employer must show “that the policy operates to effectively link specific criminal conduct, and its dangers, with the risks inherent in the duties of a particular position.” EEOC’s 52-page guidance document, which was released in 2012, “embraced the use of the long-standing three factors that were identified by the court in Green v. Missouri Pacific Railroad” including the nature and gravity of the criminal offense, how much time has passed since the offense, and the nature of the job (including where it is performed and how much supervision/interaction with others the employee will have.)

Social Media Screening
Social media hiring reports have evolved so that computer analytics and screening professionals can monitor an applicant or employee’s complete online presence to determine if they exhibit behaviors not aligned with the company’s core values including discriminatory hate speech, sexually explicit material, drug usage, and criminal behavior. Social media investigations can be conducted while adhering to FCRA and EEOC compliance. According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates, 54 percent of employers have decided not to hire a candidate based on their social media profiles, and 34 percent of employers have found content online that caused them to reprimand or fire an employee. It is a worthwhile procedure to put in place to ensure worker safety, reputation management, and information security.

HR leaders must set the tone, strategy, and direction for HR professionals in their organization. Providing critical guidance on background investigation best practices can ensure a safe and positive workforce with a corporate culture aligned with the company’s core values. 

The Authors: 

Mario Pecoraro is President and CEO of Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group Inc.